Introducing Stephen Alexander

March 6, 2013

You won’t know Stephen Alexander and at 9pm on March 5th, I didn’t know him either. However, by 10pm I knew him intimately and I’m going to tell you about him and how we met.

We met at the WordWatchers meeting, he was, quite literally, a blank sheet of paper. Under the careful guidance of Julie Cohen, the sheet stopped being blank and Stephen was born.

I am not going to tell you how Julie seeds the creation process, but I highly recommend that if you get the chance to do one of Julie’s Workshops then you do so. If you’re lucky, something quite magical occurs.

Below, is a transcription of my scribbled notes (Julie drives you hard, no procrastination, no musings, no mulling over, just bang-bang-bang) – I have fixed the typos but not the style nor grammar. How I wrote the creation of Stephen feels as important as the words themselves.

Stephen is 30 years old, a little under six feet tall (much to his annoyance). He went prematurely grey, so dyes his hair regularly and experimentally, so now he has no memory of its original colour.

Despite many expensive treatments his two top front teeth remain resolutely yellow, which is why he doesn’t smile very much. His rather angular frame means his choice of fashionable clothes don’t fit and he looks awkward.

So at this point I was already intrigued by Stephen, given we’d just met. He’s clearly quite vain, he’d like to be taller and not have yellow teeth. He didn’t like going grey and so has dyed his hair, but his choice of colours and styles perhaps to draw a viewer away from his awkward shape (and teeth?). I say he doesn’t smile much, but I don’t know if he’s unhappy…

But there’s more, I got to write (and therefore observe) Stephen in a facet of his normal day-to-day life.

“Stephen slips into the still dark living room. He fumbles around on the coffee table in front of the sofa, amongst the beer cans and finds his wallet, battered and empty save for a few tatty family photos and a maxed out credit card. He doesn’t disturb his drunken father asleep on the sofa.”

Initially, as I watched/wrote, I presumed Stephen was sneaking away from a party that the beer cans were the visible detritus of a good night had, but this would appear to be Stephen’s home, is he sneaking off to work? Is he trying not to wake his father to avoid an argument or fight? Or does he feel sorry for this man? There’s clearly some significance to the wallet, he’s recovering it even though it serves no function given it is devoid of both cash and credit. Why is it empty? Is this related to the drunken man asleep on the sofa. Is this a one-off or a permanent state of affairs? Given the problem with the credit card, permanent is implied…

Stephen opens up to me, answering some of my questions.

The wallet was a gift from his mum on his 18th birthday and it had a £20 note in it, which he spent on beer that night, celebrating with friends. By the time he staggered home the next morning, she had packed and left. Never to be seen again.

Well, that was unexpected. Poor Stephen, carrying that wallet must be torture. A precious final gift (given with love?), a sign of manhood and independence? A constant reminder that its contents got him out of the house and drunk enough to not return in time to prevent her for leaving, or if that wasn’t possible, at least say goodbye.

He’s opening up now, ready to tell me a little more.

Stephen is living hand-to-mouth. He is basically paying for his dad’s drinking habit by staying at home and paying “rent”. He’s desperate to move out, start afresh but how does he abandon his dad (“like she did” he is constantly reminded, because, he is, after all, just like her)?

But work has now offered him a promotion, but at the new office at the other end of the country. Can he, should he take the job?

Wow. What a dilemma, I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. If he stays, will he resent his father more and more? Really, never be happy? If he goes how long will his father last, will the drinking get worse without him to try and hold it in check, or, without the cash, will he have to drink less. I think Stephen thinks the last of these thoughts is wishful thinking.

Finally, in this brief meeting, there’s some navel gazing from us both to finish off.

Stephen’s best quality: He’s “reliable”, “will always be there for you…” – for friends and, of course, for family (his dad of course).

Stephen’s worst quality: he’s soft, a push-over, easy to manipulate to the benefit of others.

I think Stephen clearly has a problem here, how does he maintain this air of reliability (which he likes) without others forever taking advantage of his eagerness to please?

Stephen doesn’t know, because I don’t know but, at some point in the future, I’m hoping to find out…

So there you go. That’s Stephen, a brief encounter, just an hour together and yet I found out so much about him and I really should thank Julie Cohen for introducing us.

Julie’s website is here:

I can whole-heartedly recommend her workshop, WordWatchers without exception loved the experience.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

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  1. John Potter says:

    Great post and a fascinating read despite being two chairs down and doing the same thing while Stephen was created.

  2. John says:

    Thanks JP. It would be interesting to meet some of the other characters created that night (those that have not inspired their creators to slip them into an, as yet unwritten, short story for the upcoming competition).

  3. Julie Cohen says:

    I really like Stephen. It’s good to meet him.

    Thanks for a great evening…it’s wonderful to see creative minds at work!

  4. A really inspiring workshop. I find writing short stories difficult and this was a wonderful way to open up the mind. I now have a character in my notebook who is begging me to tell his story …

  5. Fascinating. I don’t know what the coach did, obviously, but she certainly seems to have gotten your creative juices flowing, and that’s what’s important. I like your story of “meeting” your character. Nice piece of memoir/fiction, John.

  6. John says:

    Thanks A – I enjoyed the process and blogging about it just made Stephen all the more real. I can feel him now, even as I type, pottering about inside my head…

  7. […] much fun was had, and many new ‘people’ were introduced to the group – like Stephen Alexander, for […]

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